Coronavirus: Nearly 20% of cases in past month stem from controversial motorcycle rally, research finds

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A motorcycle rally in South Dakota in August in which hundreds of thousands of Americans across the country participated is linked to more than 260,000 cases of Covid-19 recorded in the United States since August 2, new suggests study, the researchers describing the event as a “worst-case scenario” for spreading the disease.

Between August 7 and August 16, about 450,000 people from all states gathered in Sturgis for the annual 10-day Sturgis Motorcycle Rally, which featured several concerts and took place despite cases soaring across the country. Last week, a 60-year-old man with underlying health conditions was the first known person to die from coronavirus to attend the event.

The study, carried out by the Center for Health Economics & Policy Studies at San Diego State University, estimates that the figure of 260,000 represents about 19% of all viral infections reported in the United States between Aug. 2 and September 2.

As part of their study, the researchers tracked anonymized mobile phone data that showed “smartphone pings of non-residents” and “foot traffic in restaurants and bars, retail establishments, venues, etc. entertainment, hotels and campgrounds, each has grown significantly. ”

Using this data and relating it to the corresponding increases in Covid-19 cases, the researchers – aided by a team of economists – calculated that the public health cost associated with treating infections was in the order of $ 12. $ 2 billion (£ 11.1 billion). “That’s enough to have paid each of the estimated 462,182 participants at the rally $ 26,553.64 not to attend,” the researchers say.

It is understood that the annual festival, which took place under the blessing of South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem – a staunch supporter of Donald Trump – generates revenues of $ 800million (£ 618) somewhere in the region. . Festival attendees did not wear face coverings or practice social distancing during the event, The Associated Press reported at the time.

“The Sturgis Motorcycle Rally represents a situation where many of the ‘worst case scenarios’ of spread occurred simultaneously: the event was extended, included individuals huddled together, involved a large outside population of the city (a population of the order of magnitude greater than the local population), and had poor compliance with recommended infection countermeasures such as the use of masks, ”the researcher wrote in article, which awaits peer review.

According to the South Dakota Department of Transportation, approximately 62,182 vehicles entered Sturgis during the 10-day period the festival was held – a 7.5% decrease from 2019. According to data collected by According to researchers, about 90 percent of rally attendees traveled to Sturgis from out-of-state, with the majority coming from the southern and midwestern United States.

Governor Noem criticized the study, calling it “fiction” as she attacked a journalist for reporting on its findings. “This report is not scientific; it is fiction. Under the guise of academic research, this report is nothing less than an attack on those who exercised their personal freedom to attend Sturgis, ”Noem said in a statement Tuesday. “As you might expect, some in the media are reporting breathlessly on this unpaired model, based on incredibly flawed assumptions that do not reflect actual facts and data.

South Dakota health officials have also questioned the study’s results. “The results are not consistent with what we know about the impacts of the rally,” state epidemiologist Josh Clayton said Tuesday. The number of cases reported in the study differs significantly from the number of cases reported by state health chiefs. As of Tuesday, the state had reported 124 cases among South Dakota residents who fell ill after attending the event. The Associated Press Last week, 290 cases were identified in 12 states linked to the rally.

South Dakota Health Secretary Kim Malsam-Rysdon questioned the methodology used in the document. “I would just like to caution you against putting too much stock in models… which cannot be verified by other factual numbers,” Malsam-Rysdon said in reference to the study. “I think that’s the case with this particular white paper. “

But Andrew Friedson, one of the study’s four authors, defended the study’s results. “We will never be able to contact Trace with every person in Sturgis,” he said. United States today. “So if we want a good faith estimate using, for now, accepted statistical techniques… that’s the best number we’re going to get in my opinion. “

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